Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Fetches Lawmakers for Quick Fix to Bail System

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Christie Fetches Lawmakers for Quick Fix to Bail System

Article excerpt

For the first time since 2012, when he pushed legislators to cut taxes, Governor Christie has called a special session of the Legislature, this one scheduled for Thursday and aimed at acting on bail reform, which is one of his top priorities and has the support of some Democrats.

In the last special session, Democrats didn't act on Christie's tax-cut proposal. This time the governor hopes bail reform, which has Democratic sponsors in both the Assembly and Senate, will result in a victory for his efforts to improve the state's criminal justice system. He has touted his record in this area before. Previously, Christie expanded the state's drug court program and said publicly the War on Drugs was a well-intentioned failure.

If Christie is going to see progress on a major piece of his policy agenda, it's more likely to be bail reform and not his push to change the public pension system, which has been met with dismissals by Democratic leadership.

On Tuesday Christie called for the special session to begin Thursday at noon, when he will address members in Trenton before he heads to New Hampshire as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. His speech will make bail reform a high-visibility issue before he travels later that day to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary state.

Bail reform has two main elements. One is a constitutional amendment that would permit the denial of bail for those who are awaiting trial for crimes and are considered dangerous to the public. Currently, everyone is entitled to bail under the state constitution. The other is legislation that would allow individuals to be released without having to post monetary bail, currently the primary means for release in the state, if the court considered them not to be a public safety risk.

In order for the constitutional amendment -- which requires voter approval -- to get on the ballot this November, the Legislature must approve the measure no later than Aug. 4. If the deadline is missed, reform could be delayed a year, and there is no guarantee the political climate that points tepidly in favor of reform won't have changed by then.

"Together we can take action on this critical matter of public importance," Christie said in a letter to legislative leaders dated Tuesday. "The security and stability of our communities demands that we take this action now."

All three branches of government have pushed in some way for bail reform. Advocates for change say New Jersey's current system unfairly punishes the poor and risks public safety by offering bail to people considered public dangers. Reform measures, as they are currently written in the Senate, seek to transform, not just tweak, current law.

Christie's push has been met, however, with a lukewarm response from Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, who said the governor does not set the agenda. …

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